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FROM THE CAPITOL: Time to begin working across party lines

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By The Staff

To many people, it must have been a remarkable picture.

After months of bitter campaigning, President-elect Barack Obama sat next to Sen. John McCain for a meeting a few days ago. They talked at length about how they could reach across party lines to discuss – and move forward on – some of the nation’s most challenging issues.

If they can do this on a national level, why can’t we do it in Kentucky?

The truth is: we can and we must. At a defining hour in our state’s history we need the same kind of bipartisan spirit. Quite simply, we need to work together—without concern for partisanship and without a desire to posture and score political points.

Kentuckians expect us to do this. They need us to do it.

In recent weeks, however, it has been suggested by some of my colleagues that such resolve is not possible. My colleagues, particularly Republican leaders in the state Senate, have criticized the fact that I campaigned hard for Democrats in the elections that ended earlier this month. They say that such campaigning threatens the ability to work together on issues.

That’s narrow-minded thinking. We just experienced a hard-fought election. Now, let’s close the book on the politics, set aside the partisan rhetoric and adopt a spirit of collaboration and unselfish thinking as we act to confront the monumental economic challenges before us.

This is the kind of leadership Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington have promised, including our Senior Senator Mitch McConnell. This is the kind of collaborative leadership we also need here at home.

Don’t misunderstand me. There’s a place for politics. The collision of ideas that occurs during a campaign is like a big physics experiment that – when it works – produces the best leaders and focuses them on the most pressing problems.

This centuries-old system, though, features a time for politics and a time for policy.

The system works best when – after the heat and pernicious attacks of the campaign are over – people of opposing philosophical bent can work together for the good of the state.

Our state can not afford to have the creation of good, sound policy stymied by political bickering. Families are hurting, and they’re looking for leaders courageous enough and committed enough to help them.

Consider what is at stake: on Friday, an independent group of economists projected that the state’s deficit for this budget year will run into the several hundred millions of dollars.

What does that mean? It means that over the next few weeks, as Governor, I must develop a plan to address the shortfall. Our budget must balance. Just as families are tightening their belts statewide, we will, similarly, make tough choices about priorities.

We will have to cut spending significantly to balance our books, just as families cut spending to live within their means. However, we will have to find a balance – we cannot eliminate vital services. We will have to be resourceful, smart and strategic.

But above all, this effort will require elected leaders, on both sides of the aisle and from all different perspectives, to move past elections and self-interest and put their faith in our collective future as a Commonwealth.

As your Governor, I’m willing to sit down anytime, anywhere with my colleagues, regardless of ideology or party, to come together on how we move forward.

I want Kentucky to succeed. I want Kentucky to be a better place for our children and their children. And despite our profound differences at times on matters of policy and politics, I hope my colleagues – all of them – want the same thing.

It was written recently of the new President and the new Congress that they did not get to choose the page on which they would write their chapter in the history books.

That is right. As elected officials, we don’t choose the time in which we serve. But we can choose how we will lead.

The time for partisanship is over.

The time for leading is now.

Let us resolve, together, to lead our state for the benefit of its people.